Monday 24 January 2022

Productive January - Month of Warblers!

 Lately its been all about warblers, warblers of all sorts! I went on a hike from Wu Kau Tang to Sam A Tsuen with Hoiling last week, it is an area we rarely venture, and how very glad we went! Along the way I heard the distinctive call of an Alstrom's Warbler, and very soon we were looking at a very confiding individual, happily feeding just a few feet away from us. This was no doubt my best encounter with this species to date, even with just my 100-400mm lens delivered quite good results.

Alstrom's Warbler - very friendly individual

Also in the same area was a fruiting tree, and that attracted some thrushes, the most note worthy was a single Brown-headed Thrush, a species I never been able to photographed before! While this is no more than a record shot, still very pleased to have seen it, as this species is not at all common nowadays in Hong Kong.

Brown-headed Thrush - record shot

Over at Fung Lok Wai, a Booted Warbler was reported again lately, I believe this maybe the same individual seen late last year, but now moulted into much fresher plumage. It showed exceptionally well for me, as I was the only one there that morning I was able to enjoy prolonged views undisturbed, it was even singing, which I never quite imagined I would hear in Hong Kong!

Booted Warbler

Fung Lok Wai seems to be reed warbler heaven, with numerous Black-browed Reed Warblers wintering, I also saw an Oriental Reed Warbler amongst them. At least two Manchurian Reed Warblers were also seen, this species rarely winters in Hong Kong, but given the amount of reed warblers around the area I can't say I am at all surprised. This particular one was ringed from somewhere.

Manchurian Reed Warbler

The area also host a good selection of common species, including many singing Yellow-bellied Prinia, where this unusually warm January seems to have triggered them into song already. Dusky Warblers were in no short supplies, you very well may see one every ten metres along the fish ponds here.

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Dusky Warbler

Its always worth scanning for other warblers when you have a good number of one species, and you may just find something good amongst them. This was the case here at Fung Lok Wai, as it seems at least two Chiffchaffs have taken up residence here with the Dusky Warblers. They were not particularly easy to track down, but once you see it you can tell immediately that it is not a Dusky Warbler, simply by its more delicate looking dark bill, along with the black legs. The default Chiffchaffs we get in Hong Kong are Siberian Chiffchaffs, although potentially we may get Mountain Chiffchaffs as well, that is currently not on the Hong Kong list. While the best way to differentiate them should be by call, unfortunately the one I saw did not vocalise.

Chiffchaff - a rarity in Hong Kong

Other notable birds at Fung Lok Wai includes two Purple Herons, numerous Black-faced Buntings and a single Pacific Swift flying amongst the House Swifts.

Purple Heron

Black-faced Bunting

Pacific Swift

Over at Kadorie Farm, a male Thick-billed Green Pigeon was reported by KFBG staff. It was feeding on a Big-leaved Fig, it supposedly showed extremely well on Sunday. I went on Monday and fortunately caught up with it for a few minutes before it flew off and disappeared for the rest of the day! It seems that it finished all the nice figs and maybe moving onto other trees, while there were plenty of Superb Figs still in the area, it didn't seem to like them very much.

Thick-billed Green Pigeon - male

Closer to home at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment, the single male Bay Woodpecker stayed on in the area, this time I finally got some record shots of it. Despite not being very rare now, Bay Woodpeckers are super tricky to get photos of.

Bay Woodpecker - male

Another bird that stayed through this winter was the juvenile Grey-backed Shrike, and now its starting to moult into sub-adult plumage, it is much more apparent what it really is. This leads me to believe that many more juvenile Grey-backed Shrikes may have been overlooked in the past as Brown Shrikes. Hopefully with more being more confident in identifying juvenile Grey-backed Shrikes, we can really understand whether they are truly being under reported.

Grey-backed Shrike - assuming sub-adult plumage

I was hoping for Greenish or Hume's Warblers along the catchment, but only managed a few Two-barred Warblers along with the common Yellow-browed and Pallas's Warblers.

Two-barred Warbler

Finally, I managed to connect with the long staying Cinnamon Bittern at Tai Mei Tuk! Although I live very close-by, and I do check that particular pond regularly, I have not seen this individual throughout this winter despite several birders reported it. Turns out I was just very unlucky before, as this very confiding individual was out in the open as soon as I checked this pond after my morning walk at the catchment. I don't see adult like this right out in the open very often, so I was very glad to finally see it and get some nice photos to remember it by.

Cinnamon Bittern

Saturday 15 January 2022

Northern Goshawk - At Long Last!

There are a few raptors that eluded my Hong Kong list for years, they are Cinereous Vulture, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Hen Harrier, Brahminy Kite and the Northern Goshawk (Cinereous Vulture being the only one here that I have never seen in my life). 2021 was an exceptional year for Northern Goshawk, and a long staying juvenile at Mai Po been seen by many. I looked for this bird many times and believe me I tried very hard, though with little success. I finally decided to spend one full day at Mai Po to try and locate this elusive raptor.

I got to Mai Po early, as its been said that the Goshawk occasionally fly past the buffalo field near the Education Centre. I stationed myself at a good vantage point and scanned the sky constantly but without success. A very friendly Long-tailed Shrike was there to keep me company. At least two Daurian Redstarts were seen along that stretch of footpath.

Long-tailed Shrike

Daurian Redstart - male

After a no show at the buffalo field, I moved on to the scrape. Along the way I heard the call of Taiga Flycatcher, a common winter visitor to Hong Kong. Only 10 metres further down the road was the long staying Red-breasted Flycatcher I found back in December. Though the two species look very similar, their calls are very different and should be a good clue for birders in the field. Also along the footpath were many Olive-backed Pipits.

Taiga Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Olive-backed Pipit

Numerous ducks were seen on the scrape, other than the common species, up to 14 Falcated Ducks were seen, with no less than five males. The long staying Common Shelduck was still around and obviously doing quite well. Both Greater Spotted and Imperial Eagles were seen flying past the scrape, only the Greater Spotted Eagle flew close enough for a record shot.

Falcated Duck

Common Shelduck & Eurasian Wigeon

Greater Spotted Eagle

After having no luck on the scrape, I headed over to pond 8b along the border fence where the Northern Goshawk's been frequently seen as well. After over two hours I only managed a juvenile Peregrine Falcon. This was also where four Gadwalls were found, a less common wintering duck species in Hong Kong.

Peregrine Falcon


One of the better bird along the fence was a single Eurasian Wryneck, this one was not particularly shy and showed very well before disappearing behind the fence. I scanned for other crows near pond 22 but only found Collared Crows present.

Eurasian Wryneck

Collared Crow

At around 4pm, I was on the brink of giving up. I decided to head back towards the buffalo fields to wait around. As I walked past blind no.2, I noticed a large bird hopped on a distant tree, in a manner almost Koel like. I looked through my bins and what do you know! A juvenile Northern Goshawk perched on that tree! It was perched behind several twigs and branch, but it was very clear what it was. After a few minutes it flew out from the tree towards the fence and out of sight.

Northern Goshawk - juvenile, likely a 1st year bird

Other than the Northern Goshawk, theres been a few other good birds around. One of them being a male Bull-headed Shrike in some farmland near Fanling. I see females more often, so it was nice to have a male for a change.

Bull-headed Shrike - male

I haven't been to Shek Kong Catchment for a while, although it produced some good birds in the past, this site was slightly disappointing this winter, producing mainly common wintering and local species. Speckled Piculet is now a staple forest species in Hong Kong, you will find at least one among bird waves more often than you don't. Indochinese Yuhinas were in good numbers there, with at least three to four different flocks. A flowering Rhodoleia attracted Fork-tailed Sunbirds to visit. Up to two Asian Brown Flycatchers were also seen along the catchment.

Speckled Piculet

Indochinese Yuhina

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Asian Brown Flycatcher

I went past Tseung Kwan O the other day and spent a little time looking for Blue Rock Thrush along the sea wall, and sure enough I found a friendly female along there, although the male was nowhere to be seen. Also present was a Pacific Reef Egret.

Blue Rock Thrush - female

Pacific Reef Egret

Its been a rather disappointing winter at Brides Pool so far, I tried my luck again hoping that things may have improved over the last month. Although there were still relatively little wintering birds around, I managed to locate a Swinhoe's Minivet in amongst the Grey-chinned and Scarlet Minivets! A complete surprise for me, as this is only the 2nd winter record in Hong Kong.

Swinhoe's Minivet